Saturday 21 September 2019

Radio: Halloween stories were frighteningly good fun

Scary: 1973 horror movie, The Exorcist
Scary: 1973 horror movie, The Exorcist
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

A creeping sense of dread and horror, a grotesque cast of fiends and demons, the sense that some indescribable malevolence had been let loose… No, I'm not talking about Eamon Gilmore's new book about Labour's time in government, though any confusion is understandable.

This is all about Halloween, which passed last weekend. I love Halloween, always have. And back in the mists of time, I used to mark the most spook-tastic day in the entire calendar by watching "the horror" that night - whatever scary movie RTÉ were broadcasting.

Nowadays, I don't do that because the internet has made films so instantly accessible, it's ruined the whole concept of "watching the horror" and then talking about it with everyone the next day. Also, I'm now old. So I've switched to radio for my Halloween thrills.

This year, BBC Radio 4 Extra delivered a real treat for Samhain. From Saturday evening right through to the witching hours on early Sunday morning, they broadcast a series of horror dramas.

The interesting thing about listening to a scary story, as opposed to watching one, is that it's a more unsettling experience on some levels. You don't get the immediate frights and shocks of slasher movies, but because this is all suggestion - dialogue, a few sound effects - your imagination has to fill in the blanks.

And as anyone who's ever eaten too much blue cheese before going to bed will attest, the human mind is capable of dreaming up truly horrific phantasmagorias. Well, mine is, anyway.

For the purposes of direct comparison, we had audio adaptations of legendary horror movies Ring (Sat 11pm) - Ringu, as it's known in Japanese - followed by The Exorcist (Sun midnight). Yes, I realise that both were originally books but they became famous via the film versions, so bear with me.

Ringu and The Exorcist are bona fide classics, genuinely terrifying in parts. So did the source material translate as well to radio? Actually, it did. The stories are intrinsically scary, the acting was top-notch and the sound-effects were used sparely, sparsely and very effectively.

Indeed, often it was hard to know what, exactly, was that droning noise or dull vibration in the background. And, as with the blue cheese, your mind then imagines it as the worst of all possible things.

Having said that, my pick of the Radio 4 horror bunch was The House at World's End (Sat 6pm), a clever, charming and properly creepy homage to horror story maestro MR James. Written by audio playwright Stephen Sheridan, the drama captured that spooky, fogbound atmosphere of classic fin-de-siècle Gothic horror, without sliding into pastiche.

It contained all the requisite elements of a really great Halloween story: posh but stout-hearted gentlemen heroes, a haunted house, a dark secret involving grave-robbing, ancient texts with instructions on how to raise the devil… sure what more could you possibly ask for?

The Candle in the Skull (Sun 2am), while much shorter, was good too. An adaptation of a short story by one Basil Copper - really, that was his name, I checked on Wikipedia - it was short, sharp and shocking. The story of a faithless man planning to murder his wife, as their unnervingly otherworldly daughter gets ready for Halloween, it reminded me of the best of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected.

Staying with things occult, uncanny and chillerific, The Dave Fanning Show (2FM, Sun 9am) looked at cursed movies with cinematic encyclopaedia Brian Reddin. Both men talk a mile a minute, which makes it hard to keep up, but their chat was filled with fascinating, and more than a little disquieting, factoids.

I knew Brandon Lee was killed in a freakish accident on the set of The Crow. But to hear that the little girl off Poltergeist had died at a very young age through some unlikely medical complication… not the sort of thing you want to think about too much. Of course, the real horror on Halloween is the absolutely disgusting and barbaric behaviour of some… Well, I'm not sure what to call them, because "animals" is insulting to our fellow fauna, and "people" suggests that I share a species with these cretins, which I seriously doubt sometimes.

As told by firefighter Dennis Keeley on Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am), Dublin Fire Brigade received over 700 calls on the night of Halloween, because of bonfires getting out of control. But the really shocking part is that fire-engines and even an ambulance were attacked.

You'd have to wonder about the mentality of anyone throwing missiles at firefighters or paramedics. Literally: are they in some way intellectually deficient? A chimp could be trained to behave itself - but evidently not these imbeciles.

Meanwhile, on the same show, Samantha Libreri was reporting on the fatal stabbing of a young man in Dublin, and several other non-deadly assaults. Who needs horror movies or radio dramas, after all?

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